* Background Information Married couple in our 30s. Travel extensively domestically and internationally. Have used other cruise lines in the past, but have learned that RCI has best served our needs and are willing to pay a little extra if needed.
* Hotel Info We stayed at the Embassy Suites for 1 night before the cruise. Heavily recommended for its location (proximity to port, but also to shops/restaurants), services offered (free happy hour, and free hot breakfast), size of room, and price. Only complaint I have with this hotel is that they kind of forced you to use their private car service to go to the port, which charged more than the taxis, plus stopped at other locations for pick ups.
* Ship Info Most people know the basics of the ship, and most people have said the ship doesn't feel crowded. I agree, with the following exceptions. Windjammer needs a major addition/rebuild - something. Pools seemed to be a little more crowded. One more pool could have helped. Would be great if they opened up the aqua theater pool at least a day or two. Solarium pool should have been made to regular size. It was always jammed. Ice Skating rink seemed very full during open skate. Casino did have a non smoking side, but no divider, seems kind of useless to have a non smoking side. As others have said, Boardwalk is dead almost all day/night. They need to do a quick fix before drydock to change a store and/or pricing to get more traffic there.
* Activities Where to begin? Zipline - Do it the first day or on a port day. You should be able to get multiple times in a row. Flowrider - Go early as well. If it is your first time, ask the attendant and they will show you what to do. Very friendly staff. Ice Skating - Be cautious and watch out for the amateur out of control skaters. Wine tastings, slot tournaments, cooking/bartending classes, trivia, and about 50 million other things.
* Service See below for dining room service. Our stateroom attendant was great. Serviced our room twice a day and took care of us. On some of our past cruises the service was not up to par, this time everything was great. Bar service was typically quick, although at times the waiters were no where to be seen. The beer bucket special was in effect, which was nice, but they ran out of beer (Bud brands only) by the last morning. If you are going to offer a promotion, stock for it. Otherwise it is kind of like a bait and switch. One other thing, RCI really needs to have a buy on board bottle service for your cabin again. After spending the day with other cruise line paxs, made me jealous, but also just makes sense to do this. I am also still waiting for RCI to add at least one microbrew (non lager/pilsner/stout) beer.
* Port & Shore Excursions We only booked one cruise line excursion. It was the Stingray snorkel in the Bahamas. For the price, it was definitely worth it. This was our first cruise line excursion, as normally we book on our own. We have always felt that the excursions would be too crowded and too expensive. We were pleasantly surprised. The boat that took us to the excursion was not overcrowded, nor was the swimming area. The excursion also included 1 non alcoholic drink. You could add alcohol for a small fee.
On St Martin, we went to a beach for the day. In my opinion, this is the best thing to do on St Thomas & St Martin, as both have great beaches. On St Thomas we booked a private (non cruise ship)shared daysail. These are nice, but definitely read up on your reviews of daysail outfits to know what you are getting. There were a couple of hiccups with our daysail, but I would probably reluctantly recommend them.
* Summary As others have stated, RCI is marketing this ship heavily to international passengers. There was a very large Spanish speaking contingent. Not sure why, but this did disturb some people. Dress for the cruise really ran the gamut. For people whose vacations are ruined by underdressed - get blinders. I have seen the trend for more casual over the past 5-10 years, and would expect maybe 1 formal night for a week long cruise to happen sometime soon. By the way, this doesn't bother me. I celebrate my vacation the way I want to, and everyone else should be able to as well.
* Stateroom We booked a premium location normal oceanview balcony. The stateroom is as most have already described. The power outlet by the bed is a pain, while the others are not. I am sure that the reason for the bed outlet is for CPAP machines and other similar items. The bathroom was the standard, but ours did include all of the mini toiletries bottle normally reserved for suites. Night light in bathroom long overdue. The best improvement in the stateroom was the TV size and capabilities of the guest services menu. This needs to be rolled out to all ships. With the balcony, don't know why you can't close (latch) the door from the outside like you can from other ships to keep the a/c on. Also, master switch should be changed to NOT turn the A/C off. FYI - We were in the room so infrequently, would book an inside next time, unless balcony not a lot more. Wouldn't consider Central Park or Boardwalk balcony - lack of privacy.
* Dining Food quality overall was good, but service spotty in multiple venues. Our assistant waiter at dinner never introduced himself, and seemed robotic in duty. Refills on water almost non existent. Waiter was more personable, but forgot part of order regularly. Just seemed to be too busy. Bar service in the dining room was a one time thing. You either ordered when you first saw the bartender, or you were not drinking. The food quality in the dining room seemed slightly better than normal, which was nice. Did Izumi, which is recommended for quality and cost. Also did Giovanni's Table, and while not disappointed, was not impressed. One thing to note, Giovanni's wanted to charge us a $12 corkage fee for a complimentary bottle of La Terre wine. Thought that was really petty. Tried using room service twice, but after waiting on the phone for 5 mins, hung up. Park Cafe was great as an option, needs more seating. Windjammer - a complete mess with a total lack of seating and subpar food. Basically a small step up from the Wipe Out Cafe, but you know walking into that venue that it is snack/junk food. Pizza is decent, but on par with airport pizza. Dining room breakfast and lunch have been improved a lot, but hours seem to be reduced. Johnny Rockets food was standard fast food, service was good. Seafood Shack seemed empty the majority of the time. I just think most people don't want to spend $10 for Red Lobster type food without the Cheddar biscuits, especially when fish and chips are offered at no charge upstairs. FYI - Seemed to see a lot more staff dining @ the specialty restaurants onboard.
* Entertainment Where do I start with the options. We saw a lot of the shows and enjoyed them all. For all of the shows, a ton of standbys got in, so you can go to shows without reservations. The parades and parties also seemed to be a notch up on Oasis. We enjoyed the piper/singer at the British pub. We also participated in some of the trivia sessions and enjoyed that. But to be honest, we were so wore out that we were asleep most nights before a lot of the entertainment got started.
* Disembarkation We did the express self disembarking. Easiest thing ever. As long as you leave when it states to leave, you should be curbside in 15 minutes. For those with checked luggage, it seemed to be organized quite well.